The letter had been humbling to read and answered many of their most pressing questions. The postscript had been a knife to the heart for Severus. He’d left the room soon afterwards, retreating to the sanctuary of his bedroom—probably to lick his wounds in private. Draco could understand that.
That left him and Harry the task of reviewing the various documents littering the coffee table.
“As far as I can tell, it’s copies of an old case file,” Harry said. “From 1990—a murder investigation. There’s two pages of a witness report and four pages of what seems to be a daily recap of the Aurors’ investigation.”
Draco grabbed a sheet at random and scanned it; his eyes caught a familiar name. “Harriet Blum?” he said aloud. “It’s the case of Harriet Blum.”
Harry looked at him, puzzled. “Who’s that?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of her?” Draco asked, surprised. “Everyone knows about this.”
Harry raised his hand and waved it in Draco’s face. “Raised in the Muggle world, remember?”
“Oh! Right,” he said. “You wouldn’t have heard about her then, I guess. I was only ten back then, but I remember some of it. The gruesomeness of her murder caused quite the uproar within the wizarding community. The investigation was heavily followed by the press. Harriet was the same age I was. So, Mother took an interest. She started telling my father what she read about it at dinner.”
“How was she killed?”
“Dark Magic,” Draco answered, shuddering at the memories that arose in him. He’d been too young to hear of such things, he now realised—no wonder he’d had so many nightmares about it. “She was eviscerated and left naked in a pool of her own blood atop her bed, her blond hair fanned out around her, with a crown of daisy flowers placed above her head. Once the press printed that description on their front page, they had every witch of childbearing age in the country hooked on the case—everyone wanted justice for little Harriet.
“The investigation lasted for months, and it seemed to go nowhere. The father was suspected for a while, and a relative, too—an uncle maybe, or a cousin. I can’t remember now. Mother thought they would never find the culprit until they did. It was a neighbour well-versed in the Dark Arts—and more than a little psycho.”
“Do you think Saturnine had something to do with that arrest?” Harry asked. “That she broke into that guy’s house or something?”
“Probably,” Draco replied. “Otherwise, why would she have used that case as her safe conduit?”
“But it’s such an old case,” Harry remarked. “1990—it must have been around the time she started working for Scrimgeour.”
“Maybe that’s exactly why she chose that case—if it was one of the early ones. Maybe Scrimgeour’s system wasn’t as perfect as it was in later years. Maybe he made a beginner’s mistake somewhere.” Reaching for one of the interview reports, Draco’s eyes settled on Scrimgeour’s name. “He was the lead investigator on the case,” he explained, nodding at the document in his hand. “That’s him interrogating the witness, James Batterfoil.” He reached for the second interrogation report. “Same thing with that one. And it’s the same witness, too, only dated three months later.”
“Start with those,” Harry instructed. “I’ll read the daily reports. Then we’ll switch. Hopefully, we’ll figure out what Scrimgeour did.”
With an idea of what to look for, it wasn’t too difficult to find the relevant passages and understand that the damning evidence that had cracked the case had been planted by someone close to the investigation. James Batterfoil’s witness statement accounted for the man’s utter surprise at discovering that petals of the same rare variety of daisy flowers that had been found on Harriet Blum had been found in a cache in his bedroom. A cache that had been overlooked somehow by the first team of investigators that had searched his home—a cache Batterfoil seemed equally surprised to discover even existed.
Looking at the day-to-day briefing, written in lead investigator Rufus Scrimgeour’s hand, it was easy to understand the sheer desperation to which he had been driven. Harassed by the press, pressured by his superiors for results, hounded by grieving parents who desperately pleaded him for answers, he’d been at the end of his rope before the stroke of luck that hit the Auror Office. Worse, he’d been sure of Batterfoil’s guilt from that very first interview of the man. Something in his gut was screaming at him that he’d found his man—only he hadn’t had the evidence to prove it.
His desperation had led him to transcribe sentences like, “if only we could find something to incriminate him,” and “it would only take a single petal.”
And, indeed, daisy petals had been all it took to seal Batterfoil’s fate—and Scrimgeour’s. With her usual determination, Saturnine had combed through everything and anything until she’d found her way out, lost amongst a sea of paperwork, overlooked by everyone, save for her rapacious Ravenclaw eyes.
In the right hands, these documents would have sent Scrimgeour straight to Azkaban. And even now that the man was dead, they still held power. If she ever were to go to war with the Ministry, they would lend credence to her accusations. And in the court of public opinion, they would discredit the Auror Office and cause many a conviction to be questioned. It was the kind of nightmare no one wanted, especially in times as dire as the ones they lived in, when the Ministry was already put in the pillory for the way it had dealt with the return of Voldemort and its lack of efficiency in the matter.
“We should tell Severus,” Draco said as he stacked the papers in a neat pile in the centre of the table. It had taken them well over two hours to review everything, and their Potions professor had yet to give them a sign of life. Either he was asleep, or he was still not ready to face them.
“Do you want to?” Harry asked hesitantly.
Draco shook his head. “I think you two need to talk,” he said. “I’m gonna turn in. Wake me up if you need to when you come back.”
Harry nodded before turning to the hallway that led to Severus’ bedroom. He had no idea how to go about it, and he told himself that he would tell the man what they had found first. He would then see if he could muster the nerve to ask him about his mom. Gryffindor or not, it still required a unique brand of courage to demand anything from Severus Snape.
He knocked twice on the door and said, “It’s me, Harry. We—uh—we found something.”
For a long time, there was no answer. Then Severus’ voice magically crossed through the pane of wood and sound charms with two words: “Come in.”
The young Gryffindor could tell the bedroom had been cleaned despite the dim light of a single candle-lamp burning on the nightstand. It even smelled better; either the house-elves had been allowed back in, or Severus had Scourgified the room from floor to ceiling.
Said wizard was sitting on the bed—his bed—wearing a black cotton shirt and a thin, loose pair of sweatpants. There was a closed book next to his hip, and Harry surmised he must have been reading it when he’d interrupted. Severus was lying down atop the coverlet with his back against a pile of pillows, and Harry could see that he was tense, despite the projected impression of a relaxed state.
Though he had not been allowed to, Harry came further inside the room, and he sat down on the edge of Saturnine’s bed.
“The documents are from an old Auror case,” he began. “A murder investigation—Harriet Blum.” Harry could tell the name rang a bell with the Potions Master, and he continued. “Reading between the lines, it’s clear the evidence that had the killer convicted was planted by the Auror investigating the case.”
Harry nodded. “If this is ever made public, it’ll be one hell of a mess for the Ministry to clean up.”
“I’ll look it over tomorrow,” Severus said with very little inflexion in his voice.
“Good—we’ve left it all on the coffee table.”
Severus nodded. Harry knew that if he wanted to end things there, he would need to leave, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. He couldn’t bring himself to speak, either.
“Is everything okay between you and Remus?” he asked at last instead. “I mean—no worse than usual?” His questioning only postponed the inevitable, but Harry was genuinely curious to know the answer. Severus had stayed behind a long time to talk to his old Defence professor privately, and he and Draco hadn’t heard any shouting or cursing coming from the library. So, the two wizards must have—talked?
Severus sighed and seemed to relax a fraction. “I will never forgive him for what he did to me—or for what he let Black and Potter do,” Severus said cautiously. “But I think I can learn to tolerate the man he is today.”
Harry felt both of his eyebrows rise; that, coming from Severus Snape, was like a ringing endorsement. Whatever had happened in that library had been life-changing.
“That—that’s good,” he said. “I’m glad, really.”
Severus shrugged a shoulder noncommittally, and a pregnant silence fell over them.
“Are we going to talk about it, then?” Harry asked when the silence had stretched for too long. “Or will we pretend that nothing’s happened, and I’m still a clueless, ignorant little child?”
“You’d heard the name before?” Severus asked with little emotion.
Harry breathed a bit easier with the man’s decision to face the truth. “Been to that town before, actually,” he replied. “Just once, when I was eleven. The Dursleys sought to escape the Hogwarts’ letters that kept pouring into their mailbox.”
“Mine and Saturnine’s hometown,” Severus said, crossing his arms loosely over his chest as he stared at a fixed point on the wall ahead of him.
“My mother’s, too,” Harry added. The man nodded. “You knew her then—before Hogwarts, I mean.”
Harry waited to see if Severus would offer anything more, but he remained silent. The young Gryffindor had the strange impulse to go and shake him until the truth rattled out of him like loose spare parts.
Reining his wildest instincts, Harry sat up and moved to Severus’ bed, where he sat down atop the lower half of the mattress. The potioneer bent his knees to make some room for him before sitting and crossing his legs.
“Tell me about her, Severus, please,” Harry demanded. “I know so little.”
And Severus did.
He spoke in a cautious, hesitant voice that was miles from what Harry was used to hearing. His honest, open voice left very little out of the story. He did stop several times, though, having become either lost in his recollection or overcome by his emotions.
Harry never once interrupted him, and Severus carried the conversation well into the night. He took them through his bourgeoning friendship with Lily in Cokeworth and her first encounter with magic. Severus spoke of their shared excitement at the prospect of attending Hogwarts and the debacle that followed when Lily was Sorted into Gryffindor, and he, into Slytherin—two houses at odds with each other since time immemorial. While their friendship survived their first couple of years, it struggled with the strain that resulted from the actions of the Marauders, and it was with a voice choked with tears that Severus told Harry what finally sent his friendship with Lily six feet under.
Harry expected him to leave the story at that, but Severus kept going. He wrapped up his final years at Hogwarts and quickly brushed over his induction within Voldemort’s ranks and his parting of ways with his sister. He managed to continue until 1980 when he applied for a job at Hogwarts. And then his voice gave out on him.
Harry hadn’t asked for this much, but he’d listened to everything with rapt attention. Still, he found it strange that Severus got so worked up about something as mundane as a failed job interview. Harry sensed that he was missing out on something vital, and that made him curious. Looking up, he tried catching Severus’ gaze, but the man kept looking down at the hands he’d clasped in his lap, his face all but hidden behind a curtain of thin black hair.
His knuckles had whitened from the strain, Harry saw. Nothing so far had made Severus react this way, and there had been some pretty low points to his story. So, whatever happened next had to be deeply upsetting. Reaching out for Severus’ pale fingers, Harry clasped them, hoping to give the man the strength he needed to continue.
Severus’ whole body shook as if he’d been jolted by a spell when their fingers touched. A wet gasp of surprise escaped his lips, and the sniffing noises that followed told Harry that he had to be fighting tears behind his curtain of dark hair. He held on slightly more tightly to the man’s hands as he said in the kindest, most encouraging tone he could muster, “Tell me what happened next.”
Severus spoke in a voice so broken that Harry hardly recognised it as his; between sniffs, he admitted to overhearing Trelawney’s interview and part of the prophecy she made that day. Gasping, shuddering, and almost bent in half, Severus explained how eager he’d been to report back to the Dark Lord with what he’d heard to garner his master’s approval, never once imagining that he had just sealed his best friend’s fate.
Then he told Harry how he learned, months later, that the Dark Lord had sanctioned the assassination of James and Lily Potter’s son—all because of a few words he’d overhead in a room above the bar at the Hog’s Head Inn.
“I begged him not to,” Severus said brokenly with what little breath he had left. “Even though I knew it wouldn’t make a difference. Then I went to the only person I thought could help me.”
“Professor Dumbledore,” Harry said, his voice barely louder than Severus’.
“I begged him, too,” he added through his pain. “Begged him to protect her and told him I’d do anything—anything if he would help me. And he said he would. He promised me that he would.”
Severus was shaking his head, and Harry could see the lines of agony that ran through his face with every swing of his hair.
“I’m so sorry,” he continued, finally looking up and meeting Harry’s gaze for the first time since he’d begun this chapter of the story. In Severus’ obsidian gaze, Harry found a pain as deep as the ocean and regret enough to drown in. “I never—I—I never wanted this. I’m so sorry.”
At that moment, Harry felt that he had finally met Severus Snape for the first time. Looking into the man’s tear-filled eyes was like looking into his soul. And Harry saw nothing but agony and shame in them. Beneath his veneer of strength and collected attitude, Severus was nothing but raw pain on the inside. And he had been for years—all because of a stupid decision made in a moment of weakness. An error he had tried to atone for, for years, by inviting yet more pain upon himself.Harry felt his heart tear apart for him, and he did the only thing he could think of. He reached forward to hug Severus as hard as he could. It was the potioneer’s undoing, and what little of him remained standing collapsed in Harry’s arms as he shook and openly wept from years of repressed pain, a litany of apologies pouring from him while a river of tears cascaded down his cheeks.